About this blog . . .

This blog is about 80% journal, 20% review. These posts may describe very recent visits or visits taking place in the last 3 or 4 years--please feel free to update or correct any of my information in the comments or through an email message.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Experience Music Project (The EMP Museum), Seattle

The Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center opened in  2000 and still seems to be working on defining its mission.  Conceived and financed by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen,  it boasts the sophistication in its exhibits and design expected from a much larger non-profit foundation.  The building, designed by the unmistakable hand of Frank Gehry, sports the usual foil curves and ripples of a Gehry building, and for a popular culture oriented museum in an arts district, the form works well.

For a tourist, the introduction to the museum is a bit confusing.  One guidebook in our hotel room mentioned a "Science Fiction" museum, which piqued my interest.  Another online source mentioned, by name, the "Experience Music Project," which also seemed worth a visit.  It wasn't until we arrived and looked around the area that we realized they were both the same museum after a few makeovers.  According to Wikipedia, in fact, the EMP has undergone more than one change in focus--presumably reflecting the decisions of its founder.

Despite the confusion, the Project itself is well worth the experience.  The entrance opens into a darkened "Sky Church," a large, dark, open room with a viewing screen several stories high and several lounge-type chairs scattered throughout.  The screen was playing Hendrix's performance of the national anthem when we first arrived.

From the Sky Church, visitors enter the main foyer area, dominated by If VI Was X: Roots and Branches, an enormous tower which, according to the display sign, "is composed of nearly 700 instruments...which perform a series of Trimpin's compositions expressive of the roots of American popular music."  Along with several other guests, I spent a good deal of time trying to find a way to photograph the sculpture; I finally took the lead of another visitor who laid down on the floor a few feet away and pointed her camera upwards.  Another gave up trying to get a good view in a still camera, and took a video sweep.   Later in the visit, I found a much better vantage point from a higher floor.

From Nirvana Exhibit

The museum's starting point for exhibits is Seattle native Jimi Hendricks; one of the first exhibit hallways features his work.  Costumes, instruments, personal letters, and even a yearbook from Hendricks's school days fill out this section.  Washington state natives Nirvana also feature in a prominent exhibit, including the usual guitars, album covers, personal letters, and taped interviews.

My favorite exhibit was probably the guitar room.  Display cases here followed the history and evolution of the electric guitar, and a continuing looping video--about 20 minutes long--ran through a sampling of dozens of distinctive guitar stylists.  The samples ran the gamut from Les Paul and Mary Ford to Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, Andres Segovia, Bonnie Raitt, Chet Atkins, Albert King, and about a dozen more.  It was interesting to see the range of styles, and to see the inclusion of early female artists such as Mary Osborne.  I spent a good 40 minutes here looking first at the displays and then watching the film

.In another wing, the Science Fiction incarnation of the museum takes shape.  The definition of Science Fiction, apparently, included  Horror Films, and a slick, often interactive section brings visitors through theories about the appeal of horror and observations from directors of horror films.  Vintage posters decorate one wall, and cases display famous/infamous artifacts from classic horror films, including the creature from Alien and various axes and weaponry.  Another case holds one of the costumes from Michael Jackson's "Killer" video, and an interactive display uses shadows and light to show visitors how their own silhouettes can be transformed into frightening shapes.  I'll have to say that I'm not a fan of this genre, but the exhibit was fun and interesting.

In May of 2012, an extensive exhibit based on Avatar represented most of the Science Fiction aspect.   Most of this entire section was interactive.  One station allowed visitors to create their own plant life for the Pandora; others allowed visitors to shoot film with robotic characters.  Lighting and music enhanced the effect.

Sound Lab exhibit
Pop Kitchen and Bar
In addition to the permanent and revolving exhibits and displays, the museum features several Community Spaces, including a "Rec Room" downstairs, which provides a space for music education and experimentation.  A Sound Room offers a space for visitors  to try out dozens of electronic instruments and recording techniques, and musicians can even use a recording room to create their own demos, as we noticed at least one aspiring musician doing while we were there.  The Pop Kitchen and Bar near the downstairs entrance completes the museum experience; offering drinks and American cuisine.  We only had coffee, but, as one would expect in Seattle, it was good coffee, and the atmosphere was welcoming.  We would definitely plan our day around a light lunch there if we were to visit again.

From the museum website:


325 5th Avenue N 
Seattle, WA 98109
Open Daily   10:00am-5:00pm 

Ticket Type
Regular Online
Adults 18-64 $20 $18
Seniors 65+ $17 $17
Students w/ ID $17 $17
Military w/ ID $14 $14
Youth 5-17 $14 $14


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